Opinion: Having a Sustainable Christmas is Impossible and That’s Okay

Is it more sustainable to have a reusable plastic Christmas tree or a natural tree that is cut down every year?  Or is it better to use reusable fabric as opposed to wrapping paper that can be recycled? 

With the global climate crisis escalating to the degree it is, I understand the push to make Christmas sustainable. However, realistically Christmas will never be truly sustainable. And neither will the rest of our lives. 

If you look closely at everything people buy, you will see that buying truly sustainably is incredibly difficult. Healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables come in plastic, other household goods and gifts are many times also wrapped in plastic, and synthetic fabrics which many people rely on during colder weather release microfibers when washed. 

Right away this limits some of the “sustainable” Christmas options. Say your family forgoes gifts and decorations and instead cooks a nice dinner for each other. The food you prepare will most likely still come in plastic packaging. If you want to be cozy, a fleece blanket will contain synthetic microfibers that can be released and if you use a natural fiber such as wool it will still take a significant amount of water to produce. 

When 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, what sort of Christmas tree you use is not what will make or break the climate. It is very important to recognize that parents buying their children some presents or using wrapping paper gifts is not having a larger impact on climate change.

Instead, the problem is the rapid increase of climate change and lack of policy to counteract it. So is the fact that scientists have been speaking of climate change since the 1950s without any substantive policy changes taking place. Even more so, companies Shell and Exxon knew about the impact their products would have on the climate and yet continued their practices. 

Unless you are the one who made the call not to release this information and to keep going, you are not to blame for the current climate. You also cannot go back in time to change what these companies decided to do. I think these companies should be held accountable for their lack of action, however, buying a certain type of Christmas tree is not doing so. So the guilt people feel for small unsustainable actions such as buying plastic toys is misplaced. 

Instead of spending Christmas worrying about the small details, work on making sure climate policy is enacted by your legislators and reduce the amount of gas you use to lessen your support of companies like Shell and Exxon. This is a consumer action I would recommend because it financially affects companies who need a reason to change.

 Finally, even if everyone decided to eliminate all waste and consumption for Christmas, it would not be enough to counteract the damage done by wealthy corporations. Once they take long-overdue action, then it will be a more appropriate time to discuss smaller sustainable steps such as Christmas gifts and decorations.